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Tom came to teaching with one goal in mind – to be an inspiration. He continues this mission by providing workshops for students and teachers in all aspects of learning to learn.


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Back to school – what do I say?

Tom Barwood


Its a new term and I have a couple of upcoming INSET days – which I should be looking forward to (financially if not emotionally and intellectually). Maybe its age but I do feel a certain sense of ennui. I think this is mainly because at one time INSET days were a chance to deliver about things you felt passionate about in the hope that it would inspire the audience -  which it very often did. This was both enjoyable and gratifying. Now it seems to be all about the data and how to get to Outstanding. Apart from producing a magic wand it is not something which you can easily distil to a large audience in three hours. It is even harder between the new school photos and the heavy lifting course to people who are still wondering where they are and what they are meant to do there!

avenue verte 2.jpg

This summer my family (wife and two children; girl and boy aged seven and five respectively) and I cycled from Dieppe to Paris following the Avenue Verte. We did it because I was getting bored with the standard holiday and wanted something different. Using some of the technology from Landmark Education we created a ‘possibility’ of adventure. This required us to ‘give up’ a number of ‘concerns’ most of which were actually delivered on a plate from concerned friends and family in the form of ‘what if’ (it rains, you don’t find anywhere to stay, you break down, it’s too far, the children aren’t happy etc etc).

There is a major distinction here which I think is worth sharing. We could have created a ‘goal’ of cycling the 150 odd miles to Paris and broken the days down into specific sections with daily targets and booked places to stay.

The problem with a goal is that it has within it an expectation and the only thing that is the other side of an unfulfilled expectation is an upset. The other side of a possibility is simply another possibility. With this comes an enormous sense of freedom and control – especially for the children.

By not booking any accommodation but carrying a tent we stayed in some fabulous places – a couple of perfect campsites, a couple of very strange campsites, a very kooky campsite, a 93 year old Frenchman’s house, a room above a Chinese restaurant and a budget hotel (which the kids thought was the height of luxury!).

Creating a possibility requires you to think about the ‘outcome’ you wanted and therefore how to measure it. Our outcome was simply that the children would have a sense of adventure measured in the excitement of seeing what providence would provide, how strangers are very willing to help and what an exciting place the world can be. Most importantly though we hoped that they might want to repeat the experience elsewhere. All of these conditions were met.

At no point did the children moan (and they are normal kids who are quick to complain normally). They cycled with a degree of enthusiasm which left many locals in admiration. My son even had his calves squeezed on a few occasions and the shouts of ‘bonne courage’ soon became quite familiar.

So – ask me what I would love to talk to teachers about and it would be ‘adventurous teaching’. One thing I have learned over the years is that you can create a sense of adventure with children regardless of environment – it doesn’t have to be outer Mongolia.

Adventure requires risk but as Winston Churchill once said ‘some of the worst things in my life never happened to me’. Maybe if we all stopped fearing what Ofsted might say and we did what excited us then pupils would be naturally more inclined to learn?